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Hundreds of French Jews demand election for chief rabbi

(JTA) — Several hundred French Jews, including dozens of community leaders, called for the election of a chief rabbi of France within three months.

The community leaders made the call in a letter they sent last month to Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire — the French Jewish institution responsible for providing religious services — the French news agency AFP reported Monday. French chief rabbis are elected by a Consistoire committee.

“The election must take place during the first semester of 2014 so that a legitimate chief rabbi of France is chosen to express the voice of Judaism during the difficult period we are experiencing,” they wrote.

Another 500 people have signed an online petition conveying the same message.

The position has remained essentially vacant since April, when Rabbi Gilles Bernheim handed in his resignation after admitting that he had committed plagiarism and claimed unearned academic titles. Rabbis Michel Gugenheim and Olivier Kaufmann have filled in temporarily.

The co-signatories of the letter wrote that Consistoire regulations state that an election must take place within six months of the post becoming vacant.

The Consistoire, which employs the chief rabbi and other religious services providers, has a central office in Paris and 18 regional branches, one of which is the Paris Area Consistoire.

In their letter, the 50 community leaders said that ongoing plans to unite the Paris Area Consistoire with the central office — both of which are headed by Mergui — may lead to further postponement of the appointment of a chief rabbi.  One source told AFP on condition of anonymity that the unification would “allow Mergui to keep control of the institutions” and possibly determine who is elected.

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